Interview with Jeremy Mortenson (Crucial Memory)

Jeremy Mortenson: Senior Product Manager for DRAM, 11 years
Name of Rig: Ballistix Bantam

IC: So what does a Senior Product Manager for DRAM at Crucial do?

JM: I typically work with the consumer product lines, so that’s UDIMM, SO-DIMM and the Ballistix category for performance modules for Micron CPG (consumer products group), which includes the Crucial and Ballistix brands.

IC: How competitive are the SSD and DRAM markets right now?

JM: I think with any commodity market it’s always going to be very competitive. The market has its ups and downs, but we’re well positioned because we are backed by Micron who is one of the semiconductor manufacturers for DRAM. We take their products and integrate it into our products for the channel. But for sure it’s a very competitive market.

IC: Any geographical differences for Crucial? From our perspective you’re pretty much worldwide, right?

JM: Even though we’re global, North America is very strong, Europe is very strong, as is Asia. We really play across every space and category, with our key hubs in North America, Scotland and Singapore for Micron CPG specifically. Asia is always a huge and growing market for the PC and client space and there are always a lot of systems out there. There’s also Latin America too, and we have to consider the local economics and tax related things as part of some of those emerging and growing markets as far as what products to sell, how to import and so on.

IC: How has the reaction to DDR4 been so far?

JM: For the client space, DDR4 is now starting to get legs underneath it with the recent release of some of the newer chipsets and platforms. This means that the OEMs will start to produce their designs for DDR4 so we will see growth here. We’ve been in the server space with DDR4 for a while, so the consumer side is important and it’s not just the enthusiasts as we’re seeing it move into the standard client area. This is exciting due to the benefits that DDR4 brings. Then of course capacity, as we move into 8Gb IC density which means we can provide 16GB SO-DIMM or UDIMM for clients. It’s perhaps not as important for some of the high end systems that have multiple slots but for those smaller form factors (like this build here) with two slots or even one slot it will be important to have the higher capacity on a single module. These are all interesting to me, anyway!

IC: What about in reference to the consistent news that the PC market is in decline? How does Crucial keep ahead of the competition and improve market share?

JM: As you mentioned, the PC market is in a decline but what we see is that the enthusiast side of the equation is growing in share, segmenting into the higher end desktop or smaller form factors or even all-in-ones for example. For us specifically, we find that there’s a long upgrade cycle for each PC shipped so a lot of what our brand addresses in the channel is a lot of upgrade markets and there’s still a big upgrade market for years to come. There’s still a lot of flux, so as that flux disappears we’re going to have to come up with ideas on how to address those markets. It really depends on where the evolution of technology goes after this – after DDR4 I’m not sure what’s next for the PC space as there are a lot of interesting things out there from Micron and others so we’ll see how that evolves over the next few years. But for now, DDR3 has been out for seven or eight years which makes a long upgrade cycle for those machines so it challenges DDR4 to be as long. But after that, the crystal ball is not exactly clear on the way things will go. We’ll continue to innovate and to use the technologies that come out of Micron as well as addressing our customers based on what their needs are and what sort of products we can support them with.

IC: Which are the bigger outlets for Crucial right now – end user builds or working with system integrators?

JM: It’s a good balance of both. We have a lot of datacenter customers that aren’t quite as visible to the average consumer; we deal with some OEMs and ODMs, system integrators and also consumers direct. The way Crucial started, about 15-20 years ago, was selling online direct to consumers and Micron didn’t really have a direct to consumer market model at that time. So the website started a long time ago with some special tools that we still use today and we have a good strong base of clients and consumers where a customer only needs one part/line. But we do a lot of business with bigger companies where we’re selling many parts to one customer. So it’s a pretty good balance, depending on what needs the market will address accordingly.

IC: For Build-A-Rig, how was the call to action for an $800 system?

JM: That’s the fun thing about this sort of exercise – it’s hard to pick with so many choices out there so it’s difficult where to spend the money and where to put the effort. I know we had a set budget but within that there’s a number of trade-offs you can make in various directions so I can see how you can come up with some quite separate machines depending on what people want out of it. Everyone’s going to have an opinion – some will take it but others will leave it!

IC: As we speak, I’m still waiting on a name for the part list you’ve chosen. Do you have a name yet?!

JM: We have several, we’re not sure if we should go with the funny witty one or the specific descriptive one so we’re still deciding! (Jeremy chose 'Ballistix Bantam' in the end.)

IC: So what becomes important in a back-to-school system for $800 from your perspective?

JM: I think it’s easy to spend $800 but the challenge is figuring out what the use model is, and you know if I was going back to school or maybe buying something for my son who is fifteen and then thinking about what sort of system I would help him configure and buy. So it’s easy to spend the money, but challenging to pick and if I would go with a newer chipset or save money with an older chipset, or how much processing power is needed, how much gaming for graphics do you want to do etc. It’s easy to spend – there is plenty of stuff that is expensive, but hard to figure out what solutions to go for with the budget.

IC: For the build you went for an i3, which is almost double the price of the nearest Pentium, as well as taking the older chipset with the DDR3 route. Did DDR4 factor into your decision at all?

JM: There are so many things to look at potentially because you get the DRAM and you don’t necessarily buy a system just to get DDR4 – you’re picking the board and processor first. People tend to focus on how much compute power and what kind of graphics they can use. Obviously if you’ve got a PCIe slot there’s a lot of flexibility for graphics. In terms of the board and processor with this budget we decided that an i3 is a good base line to get a student going. I have several systems at home that have pretty old processors and they still hang pretty well with a new graphics card inside so just to get that base line for the price I thought the i3 had some good legs. The chipset and motherboard had some good features in it too, so that’s kind of why we went with the i3 with the high end frequency. For graphics, I think the GTX 950 gets the system into some basic games when running on a 1080p monitor with medium to higher settings depending on the game being played and certainly does the job for most of the things they’ll be doing in school except for some of the more specialized fields. I think this is a nice balance in terms of compute and graphics.

IC: You’ve chosen an mSATA for this build, even though M.2 as a form factor is increasing in popularity?

JM: Oh absolutely. You can see it today. You know the board we chose is a little bit of an older chipset and has been out there for a little while, and in terms of space and there’s a reason to go with mSATA for now to give the flexibility to upgrade later. The SSD gives them a nice fast boot drive with space for a couple of games or some important applications that you want to get the speed benefits of an SSD. In that case, in the cube it has some room to add a few more drives perhaps for later upgrades beyond the single 3.5-inch drive we also selected. But absolutely, things are moving towards M.2 as you can see with the motherboards on the Skylake platform.

IC: Why have you chosen Windows 8.1 over Windows 10?

JM: You know part of the reason is that because this system is being given away, and Windows 10 being the latest and greatest, I look at it more that it’s great to give people choices. So the person that wins this might want 8.1 or they want 10 and for now they get the free upgrade to 10. They can choose to keep it if they like it or are familiar with it but for a little while they can still upgrade to Windows 10 for free. It’s all about flexibility.

IC: Is a small form factor design in your view good for a BTS build?

JM: I definitely like the size and the form factor for back-to-school, that smaller cube. It’s not as tiny as a NUC but it’s a smaller footprint to a tower and gives power in a limited space such as a dorm room. Plus, if you’re an enthusiast, this system has some cool effects built in and they can be turned on and off. I think there’s some interesting features in the case design itself and some of the components that are going into it.

IC: What about small form factor in terms of the market as a whole – does Crucial feel a hit due to the trend from the large machines to the smaller personal devices?

JM: I think small form factor is very important. To go to my comment earlier, with the overall desktop market decline it’s going to segment back into the high-end enthusiast where people are putting maybe multiple graphics cards and the systems that are left are going to be asked to do more regarding content creation, content management and then you consume it on smaller devices such as a tablet. I mean the other piece is that you might want to do some light content creation on a desktop so it’s going to roll back into the small form factor in this kind of cube size or smaller down to the NUC where it looks like nothing more than a small accessory on your desk. I think it’s important and personally I like the smaller form factors – I went through a phase of the giant towers and I still have a couple but I like the condensed smaller form factors as the thermals and power consumption of the processors and graphics decreases due to temperatures without being too loud.

IC: You’ve mentioned that the system is geared slightly towards gaming, so are you a gamer? What titles are you playing?

JM: Absolutely! I play a little bit of everything. You know as you get older with kids and a career it’s harder to dedicate as much time to a title where you really have to build up a character or multiplayer because you end up at a disadvantage because other people spend so much time on it. But I cut my teeth on really old-school games a long time ago and ever since then I’ve been playing. Today currently I’m looking forward to the new Raven Shield Rainbow Six that’s coming out, and I also like the Battlefield games as well as the Star Wars titles coming out soon. Today I do a mix of some of the first person shooters and I hop on and off of those, as well as some old school stuff and some indie games – I’m big on buying the Humble Bundles and some of those titles where you get a lot of bang-for-your-buck for the number of titles you get as well as the variety and quality. Lately it tends to be titles I can jump in and out of easily just due to time constraints, but I have a long library with CDs and everything else dating back over a decade and more. I cut my teeth on an 8086 and having to deal with memory managers for games to get things working, so gaming is what really got me into computers in the first place. For example Wing Commander (which I still have) with its pseudo-3D and I had the joystick and at the time it really felt like flying. I think I also have WC2 and WC3 somewhere in the library.

IC: What system do you use for gaming at home?

JM: I have a number of them, but the latest one I have is an X99 based system. It’s an ASUS X99-Deluxe, a lot of Ballistix memory, and I think a GTX 780 graphics card in there. The setup is with dual monitors and a couple of SSDs which does the trick for me.

IC: So to finish, if we were to take this build of yours and spend $400 in upgrades this time next year, what should we focus on?

JM: I think it depends on the user. If I wanted to play more demanding games or push a bigger monitor resolution I would probably go with the graphics first and you could easily spend a few hundred dollars just on the graphics. The configuration the way we did it with the power supply means it has some extra juice in it for a bigger graphics card which the case can handle, so a GPU would probably be the first thing I would look at. Of course there’s some room to also put in some additional storage. Probably those two is where I’d focus first or maybe even the memory. As it stands it has 8GB which tends to work for most things but it depends on the user and how many apps are running. Especially if they’re a student and studying a complex branch of computer science or need a number of virtual machines they will need the additional memory. The nice thing about this board is that you can go up to the i7-4790K as well, with or without extra cooling. The system allows for a range of upgradeability for sure.

Build-A-Rig R2: SilverStone’s ‘Mighty Milo’ Build-A-Rig R2: Crucial’s ‘Ballistix Bantam’
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  • tonyou - Thursday, November 5, 2015 - link

    When we submitted the parts list on September 16, our total price was $794.90 excluding special incentives or rebates. So it wasn't our intention to overspent and flirt with the 3% flex, we just didn't have information about the part's 90 day average price unfortunately.
  • meacupla - Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - link

    I just bought a ML08 yesterday. Build quality seems to be a bit under what silverstone usually has, with bent tabs causing loose panels and HDD mounts that don't snap in place.

    It's nothing a bit of bending can't fix, but I think it's worth mentioning.

    Overall, I like this better than the RVZ01.
  • SaintStryfe - Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - link

    So I went on PC part picker and made a few choices of my own. Here's what I think:

    A student PC for playing MOBAs, light MMOs and school work should overall have a mid-range processor, a solid amount of RAM and a reasonable graphics card. More is always better, but 800$ is more than enough.

    Now I've got a few degrees so I know the ritual of lugging everything to school. It is... not fun. So I wanted to make it small enough to make it easy. So I went Mini ITX. To keep costs down I went with a non-overclockable chip and stock cooling. I am an Intel and nVidia person myself, so I went those too. Without further ado, here you go:

    PCPartPicker part list:
    Price breakdown by merchant:

    CPU: Intel Core i3-4330 3.5GHz Dual-Core Processor ($129.89 @ OutletPC)
    Motherboard: ASRock B85M-ITX Mini ITX LGA1150 Motherboard ($67.98 @ Newegg)
    Memory: Kingston HyperX Fury Black 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1866 Memory ($43.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Storage: OCZ ARC 100 240GB 2.5" Solid State Drive ($89.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Seagate Barracuda 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($45.89 @ OutletPC)
    Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 960 4GB Superclocked Video Card ($215.99 @ SuperBiiz)
    Case: Rosewill Neutron Mini ITX Desktop Case ($39.99 @ Amazon)
    Power Supply: Thermaltake TR2 430W ATX Power Supply ($33.99 @ Best Buy)
    Optical Drive: LG GH24NSC0B DVD/CD Writer ($16.89 @ OutletPC)
    Operating System: Microsoft Windows 10 Home OEM (64-bit) ($93.75 @ OutletPC)
    Keyboard: AmazonBasics KU-0833 +MSU0939 Wired Standard Keyboard w/Optical Mouse ($14.99 @ Amazon)
    Total: $793.34
    Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available
    Generated by PCPartPicker 2015-10-14 15:12 EDT-0400

    Ivy Bridge Core i3's are a solid value. They have more than enough processing power for a modern game, while being cool and energy efficient. The motherboard will hold everything we're throwing at it easily. 8GB of RAM is more than enough for these tasks.

    I went with a lot of IO - a DVD-RW (hey, they're college students, they'll want to trade music, also some school books still insist on using DVDs), a 240GB SSD for boot and a favorite game or two, and a bigger bulk storage drive - I was able to wedge a whole TB drive in there. The kid is NOT running out of storage. If I had an extra 50$ I'd also tack on a external for backup. Oh well - that's for Christmas.

    For MOBAs, light MMO's (WoW or GW2), or older shooters (CS:GO) a 960 is a great card. This EVGA model is only 6" long, but has a full 4 gigs of Memory, so it'll be a hit at LAN parties.

    The case is a nice lil Rosewill number that'll hold all our bits, and have external USB 3 for hooking up a high speed flash drive, plus look good for those LAN parties. The classic Corsair power supply will provide all the juice needed, and being semi-modular lends to removing some of the bulk that won't be needed, like a lot of MOLEX cables.

    I had plenty of cash upto this point, so I tacked on Windows 10 (Most schools have some form of getting MS Office to kids on the cheap, so I forwent that, but hey, OpenOffice, iWorks in the Cloud, ect.) and tossed a simple keyboard and mouse on there.

    This rig will last a kid 4-5 years easily, and comes right in on budget. What do you think of my solution?
  • SUpstone - Friday, October 16, 2015 - link

    Nicely done! and your comment about the necessity of a back-up drive is spot on too... I can easily imagine a student leaves home for college and also leaves behind them the back-up service that mum and/or dad did on the home PC. Easily overlooked.
  • SaintStryfe - Tuesday, October 20, 2015 - link

    Thank you!

    I know I've seen a few Core i5's with a small SSD or just a mechanical drive, and such, but I just feel that in my experience as a college student, having that bulk storage is the most important thing. You get files/music from your friends, you install games, you save videos for school projects, it just gets eaten up. Having the SSD, DVD and 1TB means you never have to say "Sorry".

    Note due to college networks being pretty good most of the time, it is entirely reasonable to do a cloud backup service too - Pogoplug or something like that. But I don't know, I guess I'm just old fashioned. I like a disk that if the world is burning, I can grab on my way out.
  • lichoblack - Wednesday, October 14, 2015 - link

    I've made this excersise of a 800$ BTS rig and went about 3$ overbudget. Instead of the milo, I went with the FT03mini, for a really distinctive miniITX build. So here it is:

    My entry to the 800$ BTS build

    Cart Item List:

    Qty. Product Description Savings Total Price
    SILVERSTONE Black Fortress Series SST-FT03B-MINI Mini ITX Media Center / HTPC Case
    Item #:N82E16811163197
    Return Policy: Standard Return Policy

    EVGA GeForce GTX 960 04G-P4-3962-KR 4GB SC GAMING, Only 6.8 inches, Perfect for mITX Build Graphics Card
    Item #:N82E16814487133
    Return Policy: Standard Return Policy

    OCZ ARC 100 2.5" 120GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD) ARC100-25SAT3-120G
    Item #:N82E16820228115
    Return Policy: Standard Return Policy

    Microsoft Windows 8.1 64-bit
    Item #:N82E16832416776
    Return Policy: Consumable Product Return Policy

    Kingston 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model KVR16LN11K2/8
    Item #:N82E16820239877
    Return Policy: Standard Return Policy

    Intel Pentium G3258 3.2 GHz LGA 1150 BX80646G3258 Desktop Processor
    Item #:N82E16819117374
    Return Policy: Replacement Only Return Policy

    ASRock Z97E-ITX/ac Mini ITX Intel Motherboard
    Item #:N82E16813157504
    Return Policy: Standard Return Policy

    SILVERSTONE ST45SF 450W Power Supply
    Item #:N82E16817256063
    Return Policy: Standard Return Policy

    NVIDIA Gift - Heroes of the Storm
    Item #:N82E16800995242
    Return Policy: Consumable Product Return Policy

    Grand Total: $828.92
  • twotwotwo - Thursday, October 15, 2015 - link

    OK, that SFF SilverStone is *cute*, and (or, because) I usually don't like desktop designs.
  • BrokenCrayons - Thursday, October 15, 2015 - link

    Yes, that's so true about the SilverStone case. It's very worthy of a few squees. A few years ago, I had a gigantic Lian Li case which I got second hand. It was the most impracticaly, obnoxiously huge thing and had it's own set of wheels. Since the Crucial box is sort of like a cute little baby version of that same case, I really can't completely side with SilverStone on this one based on the case. Either way, I'm glad the days of full tower cases are behind us. Honestly, pretty much anything bigger than a MicroATX is impractical and I'd much prefer a laptop over anything chained to a wall via a power outlet. Even the ease of getting a discrete GPU doesn't justify the extra size. I'll just keep my expectations low and enjoy older/less demanding games on an iGPU in a laptop.
  • PPalmgren - Thursday, October 15, 2015 - link

    Imagine, once M.2 takes off and as SSD prices continue to plummet, being able to build a system in a case that has no expansion slots. Lots of interesting possibilities.
  • gamer1000k - Thursday, October 15, 2015 - link

    This is already possible, the price of M.2 SSDs (the sata ones anyways) are equivalent to the other form factors and 500GB drives are readily available.

    Combine that with an Iris Pro iGPU and you would have a very capable, compact system.

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